The time machine’s hatch opened shortly after the team landed, revealing a gleam of dim lights from beyond the doorway. Unlike the other machine, the trip back in the time machine was not as smooth and it left Elinor feeling queasy, a small groan leaving her lips as she fumbled with her seatbelt buckle.
Carter glanced at her sympathetically as he unbuckled his own seatbelt, flashing back to the first time he took a trip. “The first time in the time machine is always rough,” he admitted softly, shaking his head as if he had remembered something unpleasant. He gave her a small smile when she glanced up at him quietly. “But you sure handled it a lot better than I did.”
She was surprised that he seemed to be talking to her, even more surprised that he was acting as if she hadn’t just dropped the biggest bomb on them all. In fact, they all surprisingly handled the news of her true lineage and life well. The most floored by it was probably Brackston, who stared at her with wide eyes, his jaw slightly hung open. The least surprised was definitely Ivan, who simply stared at her with a thoughtful expression the whole time. She wasn’t for sure if that was a comforting thought or something she should be concerned about. Had they really gone through so much that something this earth shattering to her was hardly worth batting an eye over to them?
Brackston watched in silent surprise as Carter climbed out of the machine, shocked that he had even given Elinor the time of day, let alone, a compliment of sorts. Shaking his head in disbelief, Brackston gave Elinor a smile as he climbed past Elinor and Ivan, eager to get out of the cramped machine.
Ivan flicked his eyes over to Elinor’s tense frame, observing the way she clutched the journal in her right hand tightly. She stared out beyond the machine’s door nervously. A whole new situation was waiting for her outside of that door and he imagined that she was struggling with the idea of facing it. A new life, new people to become acquainted with. After everything she revealed just before they took off, he could hardly blame her for being unsure about this.
“Are you okay?” he asked softly, his voice bringing her gaze back to him.
Elinor nodded her head hesitantly, her eyes studying him carefully. “I’m just confused,” she admitted quietly, her voice weak. “You guys seemed completely unfazed by what I told you in 1931.”
Ivan gave her a small smile as he glanced into her eyes reassuringly. “We’ve been through a lot. Lula lost her husband after two years of marriage, Brackston lost his parents to drugs, Carter’s fiancee cheated on him. So, when it came time to time travel...” Ivan shrugged, carefully observing Elinor’s face as he briefly explained this to her. “My point is, we’ve all seen things that most could only ever imagine,” Ivan pointed out to her. He noticed that while she seemed intrigued, she was also somewhat unconvinced by his words. Her eyes fell to rest on her lap, her fingers messing with the worn cover of Wells’s journal.
Pressing his lips together, he leaned forward slowly to bring her free hand into his, giving it a gentle squeeze as she looked up at him quickly. He gave her another weak smile as he lowered his voice to speak to her. “You know, I always knew there was something different about you,” he confessed, chuckling lightly as he thought back to the first day he met her. “I thought at first it was because of the way you looked at life. Even in your darkest moments, you always found some way to be a light. Not to mention you were confident, bold, curious, and intuitive. Looking back, I saw the littlest details that would have given it away. Your love for antiques, your vintage outfits, your desire to be connected to another time period...”
“You’re talking pretty highly about someone who’s life is a literal hot mess,” she admitted, smiling weakly at his words.
He was grateful to see that a bit of her usual light had returned to her eyes, easing some of the concern he had been feeling since they found her.
“I think it’s time that I come clean about myself, El,” Ivan began, cringing slightly. “I might be a bit of a hot mess myself.” He relished the way she chuckled lightly at his comment, the sound bringing a smile back to his face. “We better get out of here before the others wonder what the hell we’re doing in here.”
Elinor was jealous of the way Ivan climbed out of the time machine with such ease. She was still trying to figure out how to get down carefully when he turned around to face her, an amused expression on his face. She almost called him out on it but he had extended his arms out and placed his hands gently on her waist, lifting her down to the lab floor with ease.
He found her look of surprise as he lifted her down to be rather amusing, unable to help the chuckle that had escaped his lips as she let out a surprised gasp.
Elinor was seconds away from giving him a dirty glare but she quickly noticed that there was an audience standing behind a raised platform with several computer monitors on it. She watched as Carter rolled his eyes slightly and Brackston snickered. Lula stood a short distance from Carter, staring at the two of them with a confused expression. There were two new faces that Elinor wasn’t too familiar with, a young woman and a gentleman, who gave the two of them a questioning glare.
“Who do we have here?” the man asked curiously. His thick British accent would have surprised Elinor had it not been for the way he was eyeing how close they were together. She tensed uncomfortably underneath his stare.
“This is Elinor,” Ivan reminded him, his eyebrows knitting together. “Elinor, this is Professor Altman and Layla. Altman, she’s the author you told us about, the one we went on a mission to rescue after Whittaker took her hostage.”
Layla glared at Ivan questionably, her expression concerned. “The only author on your mission was H.G. Wells, who according to past records ended up dying from a gunshot wound at the hands of an unknown gun woman with striking red hair,” Layla pointed out to him, recognition flaring up in her eyes at the description of who she had just stated. “I don’t understand, why did Autumn target Wells? Whittaker was supposed to be targeting Albert Einstein.”
Her statement earned a funny look from Brackston and Carter as Ivan merely frowned in response to her words.
“Uh, we already went on a mission to save Albert Einstein. Remember? April 1921?” Brackston threw out there, feeling concerned as Layla shook her head in disagreement.
“Where’s Agent Simone?” Ivan asked gruffly, frustrated by the antics that were playing out before them. It was obvious that something was very, very wrong.
“At home with her daughter while her son has his wisdom teeth removed. We told her we should call her if anything serious happened,” Professor Altman explained, looking between the three of them confused. “What the hell is going on? You three are acting strange.”
“We’re acting strange?” Carter piped up, raising his eyebrows questionably. “You guys are the ones acting different. You knew that this mission was about bringing Elinor back. So unless history changed-” Carter’s voice stopped abruptly, his gaze turning to Lula. She had been unnervingly quiet this whole time, her brown eyes studying Carter cautiously. There was a look of confusion on her face, he could tell that she was just as clueless as both Professor Altman and Layla were about it. Things started to finally click. “History changed,” Carter mumbled, glancing at Ivan with concern as Ivan’s expression darkened..
Brackston placed his hands on his head, his expression growing blank as his eyes grew wide. “Holy shit,” he gasped, looking at Carter. “When Autumn killed Wells, it must have altered the timeline. He was supposed to move to Circleville in 1932, where he opened the bookstore,” he reminded those who remembered, licking his lips nervously before he continued. “Autumn killing him in 1931 means that he never moves to Circleville, and that he never opens the bookstore. Which means that we were never sent there to protect Elinor, who never wrote the book that led us to her...”
Elinor frowned deeply at this statement, her mind racing as she tried to make sense of Brackston’s words, gripping tightly on Wells journal tightly in her hand. “Wait a second, you’re saying that because Autumn killed my father, my bookstore never existed?” she asked, anxiety washing over her at the mere thought.
Elinor could see that Ivan was giving her a stunned look, as if he had just put the pieces of her words together. He didn’t have the chance to respond before Brackston gave her a somber nod. She could feel the threat of tears rising in her eyes as the severity of their situation came to light. She could barely feel Ivan placing an arm around her shoulder in an attempt to comfort her.
It was bad enough when Whittaker had destroyed the building and everything she had worked so hard to build up in her life but at least she could say that she had had the opportunity to once make an impact in the community.
Professor Altman furrowed his eyebrows together, alarmed and confused by everything that was being voiced into the air at this moment. Of all the things Professor Altman could have questioned them about, he decided to pick the simplest thing, most unimportant thing. “Where the hell is Circleville?” he asked finally, shaking his head at the bizarre name.
“It’s a small town in Ohio,” Brackston acknowledged, groaning. He was bothered that Altman had interrupted the serious conversation for such a simple question. “Layla, would you look it up for Professor Altman please?”
Layla nodded quickly, her fingers quickly typing in the city and the state to search. Her eyes squinted as she leaned closer to her screen, puzzled by what she was reading. “Uh, it says ’No results found.’” she mumbled softly, earning a confused glare from both Brackston and Elinor.
“Did you type something wrong?” Brackston asked, leaning over her shoulder to take a peek at the computer screen. He was both surprised and slightly bothered that she was telling the truth, everything checking out. Brackston gave Elinor a look, shaking his head in disbelief.
“It’s just twenty-five miles south of Columbus,” Elinor stated firmly, baffled at the lack of results. “It rests along the Scioto River. See if maybe that pulls up something,” Elinor offered, her heart pounding nervously.
Layla tried the new suggestion before she shook her head disappointedly, her lips pressing together. “The only thing that seems to come up that’s even close to what you’re saying is a Chillicothe, Ohio. There is however along the Scioto River a historic park for Hopewell earthworks, a sacred icon to Pickaway County,” Layla explained, a worried expression crossing her face as she glanced at Elinor. “Um, is she alright?”
Ivan quickly turned his focus from Layla’s confusing words to look at Elinor, who had grown extremely pale since he last glared at her. Almost as soon as he had laid eyes on her, her knees had buckled, giving Ivan little time to react as he caught her in her arms before she could hit the floor. “El? El!” Ivan yelled out, helping her to the floor carefully so that she wouldn’t hurt herself. He could see that she was struggling to keep her composure, her breathing growing heavy as her eyes filled with fear. Ivan ignored the fact that everyone had seemed to jump up from the small platform to race over to their side as he was too focused on Elinor, who was starting to tremble slightly. “Elinor, can you tell me what’s wrong?” He had a sinking feeling he already knew what was going on.
“This can’t be right!” she exclaimed in frustration, tears flooding her eyes. Her hands were shaking as she gripped the journal tightly. “They couldn’t have gone that far!”
“Who?” Brackston asked, alarm in his voice. This side of Elinor was starting to frighten him. It wasn’t like the time she passed out in the movie theater, this was something more serious.
She glared up at him, her eyes growing dark as she gritted her teeth. “Whittaker! They must have done something, something is not right. The Hopewell Earthworks in Pickaway County were destroyed when Circleville was built.”
Ivan remembered the conversation he had with Elinor back when they walked the town one evening, how she had explained the founding of her small town. Ivan gave Layla a serious look, his jaw clenching tightly as the reality of the situation started weighing on him. “Did Whittaker go anywhere else after 1931?”
Layla nodded slowly, her eyes still wide from everything that had gone down in the last couple of moments. “Yes but not for terribly long. They jumped to Ohio in 1810 and landed back in the present just before you guys returned.”
Elinor tensed, her expression growing hard as she looked at Ivan seriously. She could already see from the look on his face that he had gathered what she had been trying to say for the last few moments. “Circleville was founded in 1810, which means that whatever Whittaker did in 1810 has erased Circleville from existence.”
Ivan clenched his jaw tightly, anger building up in his chest as he took in Elinor’s distraught glare. He knew that Whittaker would take matters into their hands and push it to the farthest limit possible but he never anticipated that they would go as far as to wipe out an entire city.
Elinor lifted her head to look at the ceiling of the lab above her. Her head was already throbbing from all the crying she had already done today but she couldn’t help the new set of tears that were starting to stream down her face. “Whittaker didn’t just erase an entire city, they displaced or erased fourteen thousand people from existence. That means that the couple who took me in after Wells sent me to the future? They never met, they never married. That means they never had their kids…” Elinor let out a sob, lowering her gaze slowly to look at them with burning, tear filled eyes. “It means that Whittaker has officially stolen everything from me.”